Is age really just a number?  Well, not if you’re talking sleep it’s not.  A person’s age can greatly influence how they sleep at night.  To “sleep like an adult” doesn’t exactly provide the same ring as “sleeping like a baby.”  But why?  Over the course of a person’s life, the amount of time a person spends sleeping declines dramatically due changes in biology and lifestyle.

For newborns, sleep is everything; that is until they’ve reached the age of two, where they will have spent 40% of their life sleeping.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, newborns spend about 10.5 to 18 hours asleep each day, but although their eyes are tightly shut, their mind is active.  Newborns and infants spend twice as much time in the deep stages of REM where dreaming occurs – this assists in the brain’s development. Once they reach the toddler stage, their sleep becomes more stable and the amount of napping and sleep required declines.

If you’re a parent of a teen, then you’ve probably said, “Go to bed or you’ll be tired for school.” What parents don’t realize is that their teen’s biological “sleep clock” is different from their own. Nearly 50% of teens are not getting the required amount of sleep during the school week, according to The National Sleep Foundation.  A teen’s sleep time has become delayed due to the brain’s release of the hormone level melatonin, which sends the “I’m sleepy” message to the brain, causing teens to stay up later. For teens, this can be conflict because of the increase of academic and social demands. Another troubling factor is that the melatonin hormone does not turn off until later in the morning, making early wake times challenging for students. So although teenagers do not require as much sleep as before, they still are not getting the amount of sleep they need to function properly throughout their day. Parents should try to get their teens on a more routine schedule eliminating environmental interferences that regulate melatonin levels such as light to better prepare them for an earlier sleep time. 

 As adults develop more intimate relationships, start families and careers their required seven to eight hours of sleep a night may become compromised in order to “balance” other life values. Adults may have trouble sleeping due to their bed partner’s sleep problem.  It is often a bed partner who complain about their significant others’ sleep and that is what prompts them to see their physician.  Adults who commonly experience daytime sleepiness may not realize that the root of their problem is the need for treatment of a sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or snoring.  Aside from these obvious physical conditions, there may be some not so obvious contributors to a bad night’s sleep.  A person’s marital satisfaction, sleep environment such as pets or children in bed or the stress of daily responsibilities can keep a person tossing and turning.  Adults who do not sleep alone should work out a bedtime routine that considers the habits and needs of both sleepers.  Also, it is important for anyone who notices that their bed partner, friend or relative may be experiencing a sleep disorder to make them aware of it so that they may seek treatment.

Frequently, the elderly complain of difficulties in falling asleep, staying asleep and sleepiness during the day.  They may experience the desire to fall asleep at earlier bedtimes contributing to their early morning wake time; this is a common complaint among the elderly. Although less sleep time is required, they too experience sleep troubles that may have them taking naps during the day.  As people age, acute and chronic medical conditions such as arthritis, pulmonary diseases and gastrointestinal may arise that delay or disrupt sleep during the night.  In turn, certain medications recommended by a physician may have stimulating effects that create disruption in sleep. Patient’s taking diuretics may experience a frequent need to get up and use the restroom during the night. 

No matter the age, implementing good sleep habits is important for a good night’s sleep.  People who experience trouble sleeping should develop a sleep routine, eliminate environmental interferences such as light and noise, exercise and abstain from stimulants close to bedtime.  If you or someone you know may be experiencing a sleep problem, consult with your physician or make an appointment with a sleep specialist.

For more information, contact Lauri Leadley, RPSGT at (480)-830-3900.

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